How Much Water to Drink with Creatine: A Practical Guide
How Much Water to Drink with Creatine Supplements (And Why It Matters)
Creatine supplementation is a staple in the realm of sports nutrition. Many gym-goers and athletes are well aware of the ergogenic benefits of creatine (monohydrate), such as enhanced muscle growth, increased strength, and improved endurance [1, 2]. Yet, it's easy to overlook the importance of water intake and the implications of being dehydrated, especially when taking creatine supplements.
If you just got your new trusty bottle of Transparent Labs Creatine HMB and can't wait to start making some (extra) gains, we're right there with you! But how much water should you drink to stay hydrated?
Determining your optimal water intake depends on several factors, notably activity level, diet, environment, and how much creatine you take (which we will describe in more depth herein). We'll also discuss the interplay between water and creatine for energy production during exercise.
Hydration Tip: Pour a tall glass of water to sip on while you read this article.
The Phosphocreatine System: A "Recharging Station" for Cellular ATP
Let's start with a brief primer on what creatine is and how it actually works physiologically. Don't worry; it's not as complicated as you might think.
Creatine is a naturally occurring, nitrogen-containing organic acid produced by mammals; in humans, the liver, pancreas, and kidneys are primary sites of creatine synthesis . Creatine is transported via the blood to organs with high energy demands (e.g. skeletal muscle, the heart, and the brain) for storage. The creatine stores in these organs serve as a reservoir to rapidly regenerate adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the "currency" of chemical energy in cells.
How does creatine regenerate ATP so quickly, you ask? In short: The phosphocreatine system.
Much of the creatine in cells is in the form of creatine phosphate, a creatine molecule bound to a high-energy phosphate molecule. Taking a creatine supplement increases the availability of creatine phosphate, sometimes called "CrP" or "phosphocreatine," in muscle cells, ensuring a ready reserve of "fuel" that can be quickly mobilized to produce ATP during high-intensity, short-duration activities such as sprinting or weightlifting.
During intense exercise, ATP is broken down to adenosine diphosphate (ADP) and an inorganic phosphate, releasing energy that powers muscle contractions. However, ATP stores are limited and deplete quickly.
But not to worry, as creatine phosphate comes to the rescue by donating a phosphate group to ADP, resynthesizing ATP through a process known as phosphorylation. This rapid ATP regeneration via the phosphocreatine system provides a consistent energy supply to maintain peak exercise performance.
How Hydration Impacts Creatine Supplementation
Now, how does the aforementioned scientific mumbo jumbo tie into the amount of water you should drink while taking creatine? Well, the breakdown of creatine phosphate to release its phosphate group for ATP regeneration is a hydrolytic reaction catalyzed by creatine-specific enzymes; in other words, this reaction is dependent on water molecules to proceed. Adequate hydration is paramount when supplementing with creatine to facilitate ATP production and support the growth and repair of lean muscle mass. (Of course, proper hydration is important for all humans regardless if they're taking a creatine supplement.)
Furthermore, creatine has a cell-volumizing effect by drawing water inside of muscle cells that not only enhances muscle appearance but also stimulates muscle protein synthesis . Thus, taking creatine increases the body's fluid needs.
Moreover, the importance of water for kidney function becomes even more pronounced with creatine use. The kidneys filter waste products, including the byproducts of creatine metabolism (e.g. creatinine), from the blood into the urine for excretion. Drinking ample amounts of water allows these organs to efficiently perform their filtering role and prevent the accumulation of metabolic waste products in circulation.
Does Taking Creatine Increase the Risk of Muscle Cramps?
The muscle cramps associated with creatine supplementation are merely a consequence of dehydration (which typically stem from low fluid intake, excess fluid loss, and/or electrolyte imbalances). Without sufficient water intake, especially during a creatine loading phase, a range of dehydration side effects aside from muscle cramping may also occur, such as excessive thirst, decreased urinary volume and frequency, and diminutions in athletic performance.
How Much Water Should You Drink When Taking Creatine?
Let's start by addressing the question, "How much should you drink with creatine?".
The answer depends on the amount and form of creatine you're using. For simplicity, we'll assume you're taking creatine powder in monohydrate form, as this remains the most studied creatine supplement (by far).
Body weight—particularly lean muscle mass—ultimately determines how much creatine you should take and, therefore, how much water to drink with creatine. For most active adults, a maintenance dose ranges from 3 to 5 grams of creatine monohydrate per day. One gram of creatine monohydrate requires 75 mL of water (at room temperature or slightly colder) to dissolve fully . Hence, the amount of water you should drink with 5 grams of creatine is no less than 375 mL (or about 12 fl.oz).
The question of how much water to drink daily while taking creatine does not have as straightforward of an answer, as individual water needs can vary widely. The major factors influencing these needs include body mass, drug/supplement use, diet, physical activity level, environmental temperature, and humidity. For example, a muscular athlete weighing 200 pounds training in a humid environment will require considerably more water than a less muscular 140-pound individual exercising in a cooler, controlled climate.
A good starting point is to aim for an additional 750 mL (~24 fl.oz) of water per day while taking a creatine supplement. Remember, this is in addition to what you normally drink. The typical recommendation for adult water intake is 64 oz (roughly 2 L) per day. However, active adults often need significantly more water for proper hydration, generally between 3-4 L daily. If you're following a creatine-loading phase and highly active, odds are you should be drinking upwards of a gallon of water (equal to 128 fl.oz, or 4 L) daily to stay hydrated. It's no coincidence you'll often see bodybuilders carrying around a gallon jug of water everywhere they go.
Self-monitoring your hydration status is key so you can make the necessary adjustments. Signs of adequate hydration include not just the color of urine but also the frequency of urination, thirst levels, and even the condition of your skin and lips. Dry skin, chapped lips, muscle cramps, and infrequent urination can be early signs of dehydration.
Practical Tips to Stay Hydrated While Taking Creatine Supplements
Now that you have a better idea of how much water to drink with creatine, you might be thinking it's time to stock up on gallon water jugs to lug around all day. While that is one way to drink more fluid, there are less cumbersome tips you can follow for staying hydrated. Here are a few ways to easily increase your water intake:
Spread your water consumption throughout the day and carry a water bottle or shaker cup with you to take sips periodically.
If you get sidetracked easily during the day, try setting "water break" reminders/alarms on your phone. You should be drinking at least a few ounces of water every 60-90 minutes while you're awake.
Consume a few servings of foods high in water content as part of your daily diet; examples include fruits (e.g. watermelon, strawberries, and oranges) and vegetables (e.g. cucumbers, carrots, and lettuce).
Consider adding an electrolyte supplement, like Transparent Labs Hydrate, to your daily creatine dose.
Be mindful of stimulant intake, as additional fluids may be necessary to offset an increase in urinary frequency caused by substances like caffeine and prescription amphetamines.
Implementing these tips will make it a cinch to stay hydrated for optimal creatine supplementation.